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BURFORD, ONTARIO Stephen Cooper, Chairman of the Burford and District Society

There are at least five Burfords in the world: ours, one in Shropshire, one in South Africa, one in Texas and one in Ontario, Canada. It is the one in Ontario that I have been looking at, although strictly there are two places there to consider - Burford township (population around 1,000) and Burford village (population around 150).

Burford, Ontario was settled by white people in 1793, probably over 1,000 years after our Burford was founded by the Anglo-Saxons; but there are certain similarities between the two places. Both are in the County of Oxford, which has (in each case)  a Blenheim and a Woodstock, while Burford County, Ontario, also has a London and a York; but what interests me is why the Canadian Burford was named after ours. There are two possibilities.


The first is that the name was given to it by John Graves Simcoe, an Englishman who was a general in the British Army during the American War of Independence (1776-1783) and later became the Governor of Upper Canada. As such he aimed to encourage Loyalist sentiment by introducing English institutions, including English civil law, jury trials and English weights and measures. It might even be said that he tried to create a ‘little Oxfordshire’ in Upper Canada, not least by re-naming the local river as the Thames; and it is remarkable that Burford, Ontario is known to this day as a 'gateway community', just as Burford in England is known as 'the Gateway to the Cotswolds'. In addition, one of Simcoe's responsibilities was to allocate grants of a land to new settlers. It is reasonable to suppose that he gave Burford, Ontario its name as part of this programme of Anglicisation.


The second possibility is that the Canadian Burford was given its name by Abraham Dayton (1745-1797), the first white man to settle in Burford village. We know that he came from a family whose members included men and women who were part of the Society of Friends (or 'Quakers) - a sect which Governor Simcoe also admired. Whoever was responsible for the choice of Burford as the name of the eponymous township and village in Canada, it seems reasonable to suppose that the founder or founders based this on a memory of Burford in England. In the 1790s, the Quaker Meeting House there, which was built in the early 18th century, was still home to a thriving congregation. However, if Simcoe was responsible for the name because of his admiration of Quakers (properly known as the Society of Friends), it would seem that this was based on a false assumption, because Dayton became a follower of Jemima Wilkinson, the so-called 'Universal Public Friend', who founded a sect of her own which was more radical, while she herself was what we would now call transgender. It is certain that Governor Simcoe, a former officer in the British Army, would not have approved of that at the time.


The Quaker Meeting House in Burford, Oxfordshire, England

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